CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that opposition leader Sam Rainsy wanted to return to Cambodia to be jailed in place of 15 of his party’s activists and officials, but that those prisoners had rebuffed the offer and told Rainsy to remain overseas.
Rainsy has again been living in self-imposed exile since a warrant for his arrest was released a year ago, with many criticising the CNRP leader for his perceived timidity as authorities have arrested numerous opposition officials and dissidents in his absence.
Outside Prey Sar prison yesterday, Sovann said he had met with the 15 jailed activists and officials from the CNRP – including lawmaker Um Sam An and Senator Hong Sok Hour – and told them Rainsy hoped to engineer a deal in which he would return and replace them behind bars.
“I informed them about a solution that [CNRP] President Sam Rainsy mentioned on Facebook – that he agrees to be jailed instead of them all and somehow make the ruling party and courts release them. He agrees to come and serve instead of them,” Sovann said.
“But all the youth and the victims asked the president to reconsider, because when the president is overseas, he can do lot of work for them, so they will struggle and be patient to live in the prison until there is a solution.”
In May, police also tried to arrest CNRP deputy leader Kem Sokha, but he refused to flee overseas and instead threatened mass protests if he was jailed. Sokha last week also said that if Rainsy returned to stand with him “it would be better” than remaining abroad.
Kem Monovithya, the eldest daughter of Sokha and the CNRP’s deputy head of public affairs, said yesterday that Sovann’s suggestion that Rainsy only had a choice between prison in Cambodia or working in Europe was at odds with her father’s experience.
“First, it’s very wrong to suggest that Sam Rainsy has only two options: being imprisoned here or living in Europe to lobby for help,” Monovithya said. “Look, Kem Sokha is in Phnom Penh and is not in prison, because standing up to the injustice here is itself an effective way of galvanising support for the cause from both our supporters and the international community.”
“The struggle is here; the diplomatic channels are also here in Phnom Penh,” she added. “The CNRP is a big political institution that competes to govern the country, [and] that requires people from different levels fulfilling their duties, including the top.”